The Teacher Trainer – the Key to your Skill Development

In the first two parts of this series, we looked at the Where, What and How of picking your in-classroom Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) training course.  Another important question is Who – who is going to to be your primary instructor during the program?

At some schools, there will be only one main teacher for each batch of trainees and other experienced teachers may help with the Observed Teaching Practice (OTP). At other schools, trainees will rotate through several teachers who will each guide you through different components of the program.

Both of these methods work well, however before you give your hard-earned cash to an in-classroom TEFL Certification program, you would do well to find out the answers to the helpful questions below.

Before we get to the questions though, I can guess some of my readers are asking “Why bother to interrogate the instructor(s)?”

Well, once upon a time, one of my freshly graduated teacher-trainee students was hired to provide teacher training at a competing school. Even though this person had never really been a teacher, he was now lecturing and guiding certification candidates.

So, to make sure that your instructor is the real deal, email, IM or call your teacher trainer with these questions:

1. What are your qualifications [higher education, types and levels of certification, etc]?

Even though TEFL Certification and CELTA courses are suitable for high school graduates with no tertiary education, if you can study under a trainer who has a relevant degree, you can guess that he or she will be much more likely to truly understand and be passionate about how teaching and learning work.

In my book, it’s best if a teacher trainer has a MATESOL (yep, that’s a master’s degree in TEFL) or at least a master’s in education plus higher TEFL certification like the PGCE, DELTA, etc.

2. How many years of teaching experience do you have? How many countries have you taught in? Do you have other related experience?

An ideal trainer will have more than 5-6 years’ experience living abroad (if in more than one country, so much the better). It’s preferable if they have experience with more than one age group (kids and adults) and with more than one kind of institution.

The reason this is important is because if they have the right breadth of experience they’ll be able to understand the problems you might encounter in your own career and be able to guide you more efficiently as you embark on your TEFL career.

3. What kinds of students have you taught, and in what kinds of schools or institutions? What about tutoring?

This question is important because you’ll benefit if you can find a trainer who has worked in the same setting that you’re interested in—want to work in a Kindergarten in Asia? Well, if your trainer only taught university students in Europe, they may not be able to guide you as much as you hope. (college or university vs. public school and/or language school vs. corporate classroom training)

4. Do you enjoy teaching? Why or why not?

This might seem like a throw-away question, but unfortunately there exist teacher-trainers who only use their job as an excuse to live abroad. If you take a course from someone who doesn’t have a passion for teaching, you’re risking taking on their own bad attitude when you begin working. Instead, find someone who can inspire you and teach you how to teach with enjoyment. Starting your TEFL career should be a positive life change, not another excuse to complain.

5. What do you enjoy about teaching?

Don’t just take their first answer at face value. With this follow-up question, you’ll be able to listen carefully and divine whether they truly enjoy teaching or not.

TED’s Tips™ #1: I feel strongly that your teacher-trainer should 1) have at least 5-6 years’ experience 2) have that experience divided over two or more countries 3) have it in two or three different settings (language school, public school,corporate, university, tutoring, etc.) 4) have experience with both adults and children 5) have advanced formal education—ideally a master’s degree.

Of course, you want the best, but in my experience such trainers are not common and you need to look a bit to find them.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Be a comparison shopper. Look past slick marketing, whiz-bang websites and mumbo-jumbo curriculum to find the absolute BEST teacher-trainer you can get. At the end of the day, that teacher-trainer is your best tool for making yourself into a great teacher.  You are going to spend a lot of money for that course, be sure you get the maximum value for it.

TED’s Tips™ #3:  Perhaps only my bias, but the teacher trainer is the most important consideration of all the factors.   A good teacher can overcome bad curriculum and bad materials, but good materials can not overcome a lousy teacher trainer.  Get a good teacher, get a good start.

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